Review Summary: Gorgeous, mellow, and simple, Map is a largely instrumental gem with the ability to evoke and relax at the same time.
When you're used to experiencing music with an open mind, it serves as something of a curveball when a physical entity as indisputably uncool as Epic45's May Your Heart Be The Map finds its way onto your desk. Just one look at the album art explains this apprehension; slanted photographs of forests and scenes of snow-covered branches hardly inspire confidence in a record that already possesses one of the lamest titles in living memory. When you combine this visual letdown with the song titles (We Grew Up Playing In The Fields Of England? Really?!), it's not a promising start at all. And all of this is a clever ploy, because while May Your Heart Be The Map might not be the most ambitious or grandiose statement of instrumental beauty released this calendar year, it's an incredibly accomplished outing with a great idea of where it stands.
If you could fuse Explosions In The Sky's soft opening sections with Mogwai-esque atmospherics and occasional dashes of mellow 65daysofstatic you'd come somewhere close to the sound explored on Map, but in reality, it's not that complicated. Subtle, relaxing and ambient, it's a record whose simple foundations are in quaint, picked guitars and a host of accessories that attach themselves effortlessly to more permanent fixtures. For example, there are vocals to be found on numerous songs, and however unimportant the line may seem, when the words 'roads like rivers make their way / to England's stretches of motorway'
glide across all soft towards the end of Summers First Breath, they might well mean something. Elsewhere, mildly unpredictable electronics and keyboards find their way into at least half of Map's songs, lending an impetus and building dynamic to every track and the album as a whole.
Much as it grows and drops, though, Map is not a post-rock release in the stereotypical sense, if it indeed is one at all. The songs are short, most lasting for between 2 and 5 minutes before fading out. And there are tender climaxes to be found throughout its runtime - busier, more dense passages - but Epic45 never seem interested in bringing a typical crescendo to their sound; that's not what they're about. Interspersed with voice samples and passages of ambience, these chilled out songs are very clear in their intentions; Map is more an album to be subtly affected by than to focus on entirely. And it should be applauded in the way it sets about achieving that goal. Though they once or twice stray too far into cheesy territory, especially where conceptual aspects are concerned, it's a truly impressive and immersive 46 minutes which comes to a close with a 7-minute closer which epitomises what the band are about
: soft, pretty, melodic guitar lines with gentle ambience, cute effects and an intoxicating rhythmic persuasion.
More than anything, May Your Heart Be The Map is really, really nice. Absolutely gorgeous at every opportunity, it's a perfect record to fall asleep to and one that just begs you to unwind after a stressful day. Granted, it doesn't reach much further than that, but it's crafted in order to be understated, and in the end, the sappy artwork and cheesy titles make a sort of weird sense. Almost ambitious in its level of restraint and comfortable excellence, it's an accessible and beautiful collection of warm, soothing guitars and keys, turned into a thoroughly impressive record by its little nuances and changes in direction. Epic45 is a misnomer - there's nothing huge or groundbreaking about them - but if you ever feel like drifting away into the fields of England for a little while, check out May Your Heart Be The Map. It's an absolute gem.